The State Board of Education meeting was running behind by an hour. Finally, it came time for the next agenda item dealing with the status of the school in Unity. As I started to enter the meeting room I saw one of the board members, a friend of several years, and I went over and we greeted each other.
Quickly, he turned our conversation to the way the state distributes building aid money saying "the model we use today is 20th century; we need a new 21st century plan that reflects todayís reality." He was talking about the situation that was facing Unity in the next few minutes as well as the much broader perspective of how the state will participate in local school building and renovation projects in the future.
After being in place for more than half a century, all school building aid grants ended on June 30 as a result of legislation passed a couple of months ago. There is a moratorium on state aid, giving the state a one year breathing period to figure out what the state role should be in the future. The state contribution of building aid program essentially partners with communities in paying off the principal on bonds for school construction. Without this aid, the costs to property tax payers for projects would be so much greater that it would be nearly impossible to pass bond issues for school renovation and construction projects.
The key issue is that communities defined as property-wealthy are more likely to approve projects that will improve or create new buildings to advance the educational opportunities of students in those communities. The general thinking is that poorer property-value communities are less likely to pass bond issues for school building projects. And the question is: is that fair to New Hampshire students?
The decision by the New Hampshire School Board to close their school is overwhelming for the people of Unity. Never before has the school board closed a school.
In the short term, there is no school building aid for any school project in the current fiscal year unless there is fire and life safety issues placing children, staff and visitors at risk. Longer term, a study committee under the chairmanship of Senator Molly Kelly (Keene) will be looking at alternatives to our present system.
It is important that the state play a financial role in leveling out the opportunities between communities to take on new construction and renovation projects. That may mean a more active effort, with all due respect to local control, to insure that communities do not fall behind in their maintenance and the improvement of existing facilities as well as new construction.
We all need to learn from the Unity experience.
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Since the legislature shut down for 2010 about a month ago, bills passed during the session have been getting a review by the Governor and his staff as they arrive in his office.
Bills passed by the legislature must go through an enrollment process that can take some time. One bill, passed several weeks ago and signed into law last week, is the Greyhound Protection Act (HB 630) which prohibits greyhound dog racing in New Hampshire.
The idea of banning dog racing has been around for a decade. Legislators and citizens concerned about the humane treatment of greyhounds at race tracks have been pushing legislation here mirroring similar bills passed in other states. A couple of years ago, dog tracks in Belmont and Seabrook asked the legislature to change the law to allow them to continue to take bets on races outside New Hampshire (known as simulcasting), without the requirement that they hold "live" racing. When the legislature passed the law that the tracks requested, they stopped running live dog races.
What, in my mind, put the ban on dog racing over the top was a financial one. The state was actually losing money on dog racing because the costs of supervising and regulating dog racing was more than the tracks paid to the state as its share of the winnings. That turned many fiscal conservatives into advocates for banning dog racing.
Once a popular "sport" that drew huge crowds, dog racing started to fall on increasingly hard times decades ago. Massachusetts eliminated dog racing through a referendum. Most others, like New Hampshire, left it to their legislatures to pull down the curtain on greyhound racing.
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It was the last night of our recent heat wave, but there was still a good crowd when I visited the Claremont Farmersí Market last Thursday. I ran into Charlene Lovett, the president of the association sponsoring the market, who told me "this is the best year since the inception" of the market several years ago. The number of vendors has nearly tripled over last year.
Each of the area farmersí markets offers different attractive aspects but all provide a sense of community. Some of the people I saw at the Claremont market last week were there when the market was first started several years ago. Supporting farmersí markets not only helps farmers and craftspeople, it also builds community connectiveness.
Charlene Lovett first became interested in the market because of her daughter Marionís desire to earn some money. So today, mother leads the market and daughter has her booth selling baked goods, wonderful blueberries and other produce from her garden.
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